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The Whistle-blower Law in WV: New Consequences for Violations

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The Whistle-blower Law in WV Protects Public Employees

In 2017, West Virginia enacted legislation amending the law designed to protect employees of the state and its political subdivisions from retaliation against whistle-blowers in WV and allows such an employee to bring a civil action for redress if the State or a political subdivision discharges, threatens or otherwise discriminates or retaliates against an employee because the employee makes a good faith report to the employer or an appropriate authority of instances of wrongdoing or waste by a governmental entity.

What is a Whistle-blower?

A whistle-blower is any full- or part-time West Virginia public employee who makes a sincere attempt to prevent or report a violation of state or federal laws ("wrongdoing") or any conduct that could cause substantial loss or misuse of funds or resources ("waste"). The employee's reporting can be either oral or written.

What is the Whistle-blower Law in WV?

Public employees may be afraid to report wrongdoing by their public employer or supervisor for fear of reprisal. The WV whistle-blower law penalizes a public employer or supervisor who has engaged in retaliation against whistle-blowers in WV. Specifically, the law allows the aggrieved whistle-blower to bring a civil action for redress if the State or a political subdivision has discharged, threatened, or otherwise discriminated or retaliated against the employee when the employee made a good faith report to the employer or an appropriate authority instances of wrongdoing or waste by the public employer.

How Does the Amended Law Protect Whistle-Blowers in WV?

Under the prior whistle-blower law, an employer or a person acting with the authority of the employer, is subject to a $500 civil fine for engaging in such action against a "whistle-blower." The new amended whistle-blower law increases the potential penalties against an employer who violates W.Va. Code §6C-1-6. Specifically, the law now allows imposing a civil penalty up to $5,000.00 for such a violation. The amended law also allows for the discipline of a such an employer, up to and including termination, if a court determines that the employer violated the whistle-blower law with the intent to discourage the disclosure of information.

The consequences for violation of the whistle-blower law can be severe. The whistle-blower law in WV subjects violators to personal consequences, including fines and even termination from employment. Previously, an employer or a person acting with the authority of the employer was subject to a $500 civil fine for engaging in such action against a whistle-blower. House Bill 2006, enacted as West Virginia Code §6C-1-6 in 2017, amended the potential penalties against an employer who violates WV whistle-blower law by increasing the civil penalty for such a violation to $5,000 and clarified that the fine is the personal liability of the violator. The law also allows for the discipline of a an employer who violates the whistle-blower law, up to and including termination, if a court determines that the employer violated the whistle-blower law with the intent to discourage the disclosure of information.

What is the purpose of the Whistle-blower Law in WV?

The State and its political subdivisions certainly have an interest in employees acting responsibly to report unlawful actions or waste committed by a governmental entity. The law as amended further encourages governmental employees to make reports of unlawful actions by governmental entities and enhances the deterrence aspect of West Virginia Code §6C-1-6 by increasing the penalties on employers and co-employees who discourage such reporting.

If you are involved in a possible violation of the whistle-blower law in WV, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Nathaniel Kuratomi of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC has years of experience litigating whistle-blower cases. For more information, contact us using our online form or by calling (866) 617-4736.

How can you protect your employees from sexual harassment? How can you protect your company from a discrimination lawsuit? Attorneys from Jenkins Fenstermaker PLLC will give you some answers at their upcoming seminar, "He Said, She Sued: The realities of harassment and discrimination in the workplace." The free seminar is co-sponsored by the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce and will take place on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the St. Mary's Center for Education, 2825 Fifth Avenue, Huntington, WV. To RSVP, call 304.525.5131 or email chamber@huntingtonchamber.org. 

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